Rock formations and oasis in Prescott

Prescott is home to beautiful rock formations. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Discover the Wild West History and Desert Landscapes of Prescott, Arizona

Whether you’re on an Arizona road trip or visiting Phoenix for vacation, carve out some time to visit Prescott, a small city less than two hours outside of the Phoenix metro area. Here, you’ll get a real taste of what it was like to live in a frontier town in the Wild West days — from having a tipple in an old saloon on Whiskey Row to riding horses through the wilderness.

There’s so much nature on offer, you can tailor your trip to suit your interest and fitness. Ready to take on a 10-mile hike? There are options for that. Prefer to do a little shopping instead? That’s on the table, too. Best of all, Prescott’s small scale means you can fit pretty much everything into just three days.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Explore Prescott National Forest

Today, you’ll tackle Prescott National Forest, a 1.25-million-acre protected area. But before you set out for the day, have breakfast in town at the Lone Spur Café, where Old West decor pairs with hearty fare (the menu has an entire section devoted to “meat ‘n’ eggs”).

Plan ahead for lunch by ordering something to go from Lone Spur — or if it’s after 10:30, grab some sandwiches from Nick’s Feed Your Face, a local favorite known for swapping shredded cabbage for lettuce on their classic foot-long subs. Pack plenty of water, too!

Horses along fence on cloudy day
Explore on horseback. (Photo: Getty Images)

When you’re geared up and ready to go, make your way to Prescott National Forest. With 450 miles of trails (for hiking, biking or horseback riding), you can easily find one to match your mood and fitness level — from Sonoran Desert to groves of ponderosa pines, and routes that range from relatively flat to sky-high treks that scale mountains.

Depending on your energy level, try the Lynx Loop Trail (a 2.6-mile shaded loop around a swimmable lake), the Thumb Butte Trail 33 (a 2.5-mile quad-burner with San Francisco Mountain views) and the Granite Mountain Trail (a 7.9-mile climb, featuring some rock scrambles). After a morning hike, kick back and relax on Lynx Lake for the afternoon — bring your fishing gear!

After exploring Prescott National Park, head back to downtown Prescott for a well-earned dinner. If you’re in the mood for something hearty, we recommend Papa’s Italian Restaurant. Prefer something a little lighter? Raven Café has you covered. If you choose the latter, you might be able to catch some live music after your meal.

Saturday: Discover Downtown

Breakfast plates with eggs
A hearty breakfast will help you fuel up for a day of exploring. (Photo: Marriott International)

Start with a healthy breakfast at the Local, a stylish eatery that uses locally sourced ingredients in its made-from-scratch dishes. Or for a lighter bite, try Cuppers Coffee House, which is said to have the best brew in town.

Spend the morning exploring downtown. Take in the historic buildings on Whiskey Row, which got its name because, at one point, there were some 40 saloons here. These days, there are restaurants and shops here, too, but don’t worry — you’ll be back this evening for the area’s extremely spirited nightlife.

While downtown, learn about the history of Prescott and Arizona at large, either at the Sharlot Hall Museum, housed in the former governor’s mansion, or the Prescott Western Heritage Center.

Have a light lunch at Farm Provisions or at the Porch Coffee, then continue museum-hopping through town. Two must-sees include the Phippen Museum, dedicated to Western art, and the Museum of Indigenous People, where knowledgeable docents lead you through the history of local Indigenous culture by way of art, artifacts and kachina dolls.

For dinner, try tapas spot El Gato Azul, the upscale steak and seafood restaurant Murphy’s or the Palace, Arizona’s oldest saloon, which opened in 1877. The Palace served Wyatt and Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday back in the day, or so the story goes.

Then, return to Whiskey Row for its famous nightlife — simply wander up and down the block and pick the establishment that speaks to you. If you didn’t dine at the Palace earlier, we do recommend stopping by for a drink (and a taste of history).

Sunday: Get to Know the Granite Dells

After a big night out, it’s best to start your day with a classic greasy spoon breakfast — try the Dinner Bell Café, which opened around 1939, or Prescott Junction, which has a breakfast buffet.

Then get some fresh air in the Granite Dells, a natural area just 4 miles outside of downtown Prescott. There are plenty of meandering trails that allow you to see the intriguing rock formations without exerting yourself too much. But if you’re up for a challenge, try Granite Gardens, where you’ll scramble across the rocks and even squeeze between them. (It’s a favorite with kids!)

Paddleboarder on Watson Lake
Go paddleboarding on Watson Lake. (Photo: Getty Images)

Break for lunch — our pick today is Cajun and barbecue at Uncle Bud’s Place — before spending some recreational time at Watson Lake or Willow Lake, two reservoirs in the area. If you’re traveling with kids (or simply don’t want to spend too long on the water), a visit to the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary might be in order.

Wrap up your Prescott adventure with some more culinary exploration, perhaps at French restaurant Atmesfir or trendy American restaurant the County Seat. If you have a little fuel left in your tank, you can end your trip where it all began: back in Prescott National Forest for a little stargazing.